Tag Archives: Penpole

A Regency Fancy 

Another painting recently came to auction that’s of Kings Weston interest; it’s a watercolour of the house and park from Penpole Point. It’s a view that’s already familiar to us through one of the most widely published and most attractive prints of the park in the early 19th Century. The artist was the impressively named Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-1855) who visited Kings Weston in 1816. It’s not clear whether it was intentionally painted as part of a larger project, but reproduced it found its way into a Series of Picturesque Views of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Seats seven years later.

the original watercolour showing the view of Kings Weston house from Penpole Point. 1816, Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-1855). 
One version of the print copied from the original painting. 

The Kings Weston Tornado?

This month the news has been filled with a number of serious storms that have brought winds and flooding to several parts of Britain, but 164 years ago Kings Weston also experienced a shocking gale.

Two historic photographs (or perhaps four depending how you’d like to count) have come to us recently that mark a significant event in the history of the estate. The photos are extremely early, now thought to be the earliest photos of Kings Weston know, and are designed for use in a stereoscopic viewer; each of the two photos is taken using separate lenses set the same distance apart as the human eye; when seen through a viewer the eye sees a 3D impression of the view. Whilst the two photos on each card look the same at first glance, they are taken from fractionally different perspectives to create the effect. 

One of the elms blown over on Penpole Lane on 1/11/1859. the location looks east from the current location of the Oasis Academy school. 

The views focus on large a number of massive fallen trees pulled out by the roots and thrown over. On the reverse of each the location is identified as Kings Weston and dated as being from November 1859. They were taken following a violent storm that severely damaged Shirehampton and the Kings Weston estate on the first of that month. We’ve known of this event before, from newspaper articles that described the devastation, but these photos add incredible insight into the aftermath. The UK was subjected to a number of heavy storms around the same time in 1859, the most famous being the “Royal Charter” storm the week before Kings Weston’s. The Royal Charter sank off Anglesey on October the 25th with more than 400 fatalities and the loss of a substantial cargo of gold being brought from Australia. The sinking occupied journalists for days as details of the story became known, but Kings Weston would shortly join it in the national newspapers.

Three elms in a row are seen wrenched out of the ground. These trees may be on the avenue from the Circle into Penpole Wood, and the dark conifer in the distance may be either the Cedar tree at the east end, or the Wellingtonia at the west; both trees would have been young at this time.  

Newspapers at the time describe the winds as arriving before dawn, sudden and ferocious, there’s even the suggestion that it was a tornado, considering the relatively localised trail of damage from Lamplighter’s, through Shirehampton, and into Kings Weston park it’s certainly a possibility. Reports suggest that in just seven minutes upwards of 300 trees brought down. They describe 20-30 trees lying on top of each other and thrown down some northwards but also eastwards. The lawns of the house were scattered with branches and timber and the whole scene became an unlikely public attraction the following day.  Particular attention was made of the loss of many great old elms that lined Penpole Lane: it’s these trees that are shown in the recently discovered photos.      

Philip William Skinner Miles, then owner of the estate, must have been faced with a huge challenge in cleaning up, and he appears to have quickly set to replanting many of the lost trees with new. A slightly later photo of Penpole Lane, from the 1860s, shows the replacement trees protected by paling fences and are already becoming well established. Opposite Penpole Lodge in this view can be seen one of the elms that survived the carnage, the branches of which are sufficiently distinctive to be recognised in the background of one of the storm photographs seen from the other side; a helpful landmark in locating the photographer’s position in 1859.

the scene on Penpole lane in around 1867, looking towards Penpole Lodge. Young trees replacing those fallen stand guarded by fences. 

Thankfully, for the modern visitor, Skinner Miles chose lime trees instead of elm, or the estate would again have lost them all from Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and 80s. Many of these lime trees can still be seen lining Penpole Lane and the avenue into Penpole Wood from the Circle.

One of the news reports detailing the course of the storm and its impact. 

A Pennant from Penpole 

This time of year might not be the best to think about camping, but we wanted to share a new artefact that’s recently come our way: a small green flag. Many will know that Penpole Wood and the slopes below, where Lawrence Weston estate now stands, were the home of Bristol’s district Scout camp between 1937 and 1947; It’s a rather sad story that ended with their land being compulsorily purchased by the City Council for new housing. But, in 1937, after their purchase of 70 acres of woods and a couple of fields in the park below they set out with great optimism to create somewhere that Scouts could come to hone their camping skills, pioneering, and woodcraft.

Teams of scouts raise the new camp flagpole in the fields below Penpole Wood. Trees in the distance on the right are still recognisable as those on The Tump. The location of the flag would be around where 19 Mancroft Avenue stands today.. 

By the end of the first year it was clear that it had been an immediate success. The Scouts chapel, steps through Penpole Woods, and the campfire circle had been set out, with Penpole Lodge and Wood Lodge being used as storage and offices. A campsite in the woods was created in Jubilee Clearing, surrounded by trees of the Victorian arboretum. The second year, 1938, began with great optimism. Early in the year a magnificent new flagpole of about 50ft in height was manhandled into the fields and set up close to the campfire circle.

a flyer handed out to advertise the “Penpoloree”

The highpoint of that year was the Whitsun jamboree camp held over the summer bank holiday weekend, christened the Penpoloree. This was the main annual gathering to which all the district’s scouts were invited, attracting visitors from troops around the country. Events and displays were put on over three consecutive days, the event even forming part of the city’s civic calendar with the distinguished attendance of the Lord Mayor. It was also an opportunity for the Scouts to showcase their campsite to the general public who were invited to the camp sing along, with guests paying 6d for the privilege.
 1938 was particularly special for the attendance of the 8th Earl of Buckinghamshire, John Hampden Mercer-Henderson (1906-1963), Commissioner for the Boy Scout movement. He camped with the scouts for the duration of the jamboree and keenly involved himself in the weekend’s events. His presence cemented Penpole on the national scouting stage, resulting in plenty of press coverage both locally and nationally.
The culmination of each day’s event was focussed on the huge campfire hosted in the fields below Penpole Wood. Here, with the camp chief presiding in a chair hollowed from a giant log, dignitaries were hosted and public beheld the massed voices of the campers in song. A special Penpole camp yell was also a highlight of festivities before campers returned to their tents either nearby or in Jubilee Clearing at the top end of the woods.      

The Commissioner of the Boy Scout movement, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, conducts proceedings around the jamboree campfire in 1938.

During the camp special pennants were awarded to recognise particular scouts and patrol groups who had excelled in their work, our recently acquired flag no doubt being one of those handed out by the Commissioner on that Whitsun weekend. By coincidence one of the photos published in the Evening Post shows the Earl presenting a similar pennant to the Lord Mayor at the camp. Sadly we know nothing of its history between then and our acquisition.

the pennant, awarded for good camping at the Penpole Whitsun jamboree in 1938. 
The Lord Mayor is presented with a similar pennant by the Earl of Buckingham.

The camp was a huge success. Over the weekend Penpole attracted 897 campers with another 479 visiting scouts, and over 2000 paying members of Bristol’s public. It was to be a sunny and halcyon time for those who attended, unaware that the onset of war the following year and the council’s desperate need for housing afterwards would overshadow their time there. Today the
If you remember camping at Penpole or have any more memorabilia from the scout’s time at Penpole, we’d love to hear from you. We know that there were films recorded during the 1938 event by W. F. E Gill, so we’d love to know what happened to them. If you’d like to read more about the Scout’s history on the Kings Weston estate, take a look at the detailed journals written at the time by W.G.N Webber who was camp coordinator for their time there. The original is held at Bristol Archives and is free to view on request.

Painted from Penpole – a new discovery  

A recent new acquisition is this watercolour painting of Kings Weston house framed by the trees and lodge at Penpole Point. The gates separating the common land on the Point from the private woodland walls is firmly shut and the top of the lodge is almost enveloped in ivy. The sun makes the golden stone of both buildings glow in the early autumn light. This was once a well-known view of the house, being the subject of several other known paintings, but inclusion of the lodge in the view as well is unusual. The view to the house must have been obscured by trees not long after this painting was created as we have no later image from this perspective.

It’s an important find for a couple of reasons; first it was painted by a well-known local artist, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham (1782–1853), whose paintings form a major component of the city museum’s Braikenridge collection. Most of these date to the 1820s and were commissioned to record historic buildings and monuments in the city, though the Kings Weston painting falls outside of that collection. It’s also significant for its very precise date – September 21st 1848 – just a year short of 175 years, almost to the week. It’s a late work by Rowbotham, then aged 66, the artist surviving just five years longer after its completion.  

Kings Weston house and Penpole Lodge from the point, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, 21st September 1848. 

Penpole Point: A place for the people

Strictly speaking Penpole Point shouldn’t form part of the historic Kings Weston landscaped parkland; it has always been common land, separated from the private grounds by a stout estate wall, guarded by lodges. The land was of no agricultural use, exposed, and only offered sparse common grazing land, so perhaps little wonder that it was largely valueless and left for people and livestock to roam freely. Add to this the spectacular views once enjoyed looking across the Avon and Severn estuary and the rocky outcrop proved to be a popular destination for visitors and locals alike.

Buttercup-dotted meadow surrounds Penpole Compass Dial, the same spot we’ve just cleared. This postcard dates to the late 1930s. 

The focus of the Point itself was, and still is, the stone dial with its circular bench. Often misunderstood as an ornamental sundial it is in fact a 17th Century marker, set up by the Merchant Venturers, and used as a landmark by seafarers to calculate the safe passage into the mouth of the Avon. The bench was originally a wooden platform to access the upper surface of the dial and the carved compass on its top surface, likely used to take crude bearings for the location of ships moored in the channel. Whatever it’s intended use it provided a convenient bench for visitors to sit and take in the vast panorama below.

With greater appreciation of the picturesque and sublime that developed in the Georgian era the Point, with its rocky edges, and exposed situation appealed to the senses; at once beautiful, but simultaneously perilous and vulnerable to nature’s elemental forces. Notable artists came here to try and capture that experience, and whose paintings now appear in the collections of museums and galleries internationally.     

View of the River Severn near Kings Weston, Benjamin Barker, 1809. The rocks on Penpole Point in the foreground mirror the ominous clouds beyond. Penpole Lodge and in the far distance the Dial appear as fragile human interventions in a landscape of wild, sublime, grandeur.   Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection 

Our perception of the Point is today largely marred by the trees that have grown up, particularly on the west side, that rob the visitor of views of the ground on that side, and of an appreciation of the height and nature of the sudden drop. Hidden too are the exposed rocky outcrops and projecting slabs that once added to the rugged character; you can still find these in exposed spots beneath the Point, where the suffocating ivy relents and the thrusting geological beds create sheltered alcoves.
The wood that’s grown along this western edge has grown up since regular grazing ended on the common land; we don’t know when, but probably around the 1930s, perhaps after WWII. Views from the point are still remembered from as recently as the 1980s, but since then the onslaught of self-seeded ash and sycamore has cloaked the slope. For the intrepid explored  it’s still worth trekking through the woodland, passing through the hummocks of former quarries and below “The Rocks”.

An early 20th Century postcard view of The Rocks, looking back along Penpole Point, the dial and Penpole Lodge appearing on the left. Already trees and shrubs have begun to colonise the open grassland. 

The area was as popular recreation space as the Point itself, offering the visitor a rugged playground of exposed rocks and little dells. It was popular for picnickers seeking for a more convivial, sheltered spot than the open ground above the Point. It was also the location chosen for a series of famous local events; the open air church services. These were begun in 1910 by the local Vicar, Rev Powell, a provocative figure who was seldom far from controversy. The Rocks most likely provided a physical reminder of the hill of Calvary, fundamental to the Easter story. A makeshift pulpit was set up against Penpole Lane and the assembled crowd could gather in a natural amphitheatre of the rocks opposite to listen to the sermon and sing.

In the Rev Powell’s own words, written in 1914:        
“In the year 1910, 1911, 1911, and 1912 we held open air services in those beautiful surroundings. On Easter Monday of both this year and of last year, although no longer vicar of the parish, I repeated these services. The singing by a special choir, ably led by Mr Milton of Clifton, has always been a helpful feature. The natural formation of this valley-like spot lent itself to the sound of many voices” 

The Easter Service at Penpole Point in 1913, conducted by Rev Powell. He can be seen in the pulpit on the left on Penpole Lane, with crowds seated on the steep edges of the ridge. Penpole Lodge rises up above the tree line on the right. 
The same location as the 1913 Easter Service. Some features remain just recognisable, but today the area has been reclaimed by  woodland. 
Bristol Rock Cress growing still in the Avon Gorge. From Wildwings and Wanderings blo

Sadly the regular events ended in bitterness after a new vicar came to Shirehampton in 1912, and the Rev Powell’s continuation of “rival” services at Penpole caused friction. Powell to put his own side of the story in his book “Recent persecution in the church of England”.

It was this more rugged side of Penpole Point that offered rare habitat to Bristol Rockcress, a variety of wildflower found only in the Avon Gorge and, once here too. The crevices between rocks offered protection for the tiny plants. Like the drama of the place these too have succumbed to the growth of the trees and onslaught of ivy, overshadowing this once-unique habitat.

A group of labourers stop for lunch sat on the Penpole ridge in the 1900s, each with their own flagon. 

Laurel clearance concerns

Please be reassured…

KWAG appreciates that there is some concern locally about the felling of laurel in Penpole Wood. We do understand that the degree of change can be challenging, but we’d like to assure everyone that the work KWAG are doing is necessary for the future protection of the Ancient Woodland.

Over the last few months KWAG volunteers have been undertaking two projects directed by the Forestry Commission; Natural Spacing and the removal of Laurel. Natural Spacing is good practice to thin-out poor quality saplings to allow the best ones, and most importantly the existing mature trees, to thrive with less competition. It promotes growth and reduces the risk of disease.

Cherry Laurel is an invasive foreign plant, and has serious implications for the health of natural woodland; it suffocates all other competing native species by preventing light from reaching the forest floor. It also decays slowly leaving a cocktail of toxins in the soil that retard the growth of other trees and ground cover.

It’s also on the Dogs Trust list of poisonous plants for dogs.

Laurels recently felled

Laurels recently felled

Although laurel’s been present at Kings Weston for centuries, introduced as an ornamental shrub, it’s now run wild, threatening the nature, fabric, and diversity of the Ancient Woodland; as such it needs to be removed.

Although it will look bare for a short time, especially now in winter, the removal of the laurel will allow the forest floor to regenerate naturally with native trees and undergrowth; That it looks so bare right now is largely because the laurel has already suffocated everything at ground level.

The process will ensure the survival of the Ancient Woodland for future generations, ultimately increasing the diversity of woodland habitat and species.

The majority of the feedback we’ve had has been resoundingly positive, but we appreciate the loss of familiar thickets will upset some people. Please be assured that KWAG are working to a brief defined by the Forestry Commission, and supported by Bristol City Council, and that the work is designed to save Penpole Wood from permanent decay, not to damage it.

You can read more about Bristol’s Biodiversity Action Plan for woodlands, and the benefits of re-opening the forest floor to native growth here: